India's war on Maoists under attack
By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is under fire.
"Operation Green Hunt", an ongoing military offensive against Maoists in
central and eastern India, has turned hugely controversial. Aimed at quelling
the Maoist insurgency raging in India's heartlands, it is fueling unprecedented
violence. What is more, the "war against the Maoists" is increasingly being
described as Chidambaram's ''war against tribals".
Last week, a private passenger bus was blown up by Maoists at Chingawaram in
Dantewada, killing 31 people, mainly civilians. A month earlier, 76
paramilitary personnel were killed in an ambush at Chintalnar in Dantewada,
Chhattisgarh state. Scores of other violent incidents have gripped the Maoist
Green Hunt's critics say the operation is aimed at furthering the business
ambitions of mining companies in the mineral-rich tribal
areas, not protecting lives and livelihoods. They say that violence has surged
since its launch in November last year and have called on the government to
rethink its strategy. Civilian casualties surpass those of security forces or
Maoists, and thousands of villagers - mainly tribals - are streaming out of the
area to escape the fighting.
The "real objective of Green Hunt is not eliminating the Maoists but driving
out tribals living in the area',' Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan told
Asia Times Online. ''It is aimed at turning the area into a war zone, forcing
tribals to flee."
Chidambaram is determined to press on with the military offensive. Following
the attack by rebels in Chingawaram on May 17, he asked for a "larger mandate",
including air support for ground operations. "The security forces, the chief
ministers want air support," he said in an interview with NDTV. "They are the
men on the ground."
The rebels, who have tapped into the rural poor's growing anger at being left
out of the country's economic gains, have forces in 20 of the country's 28
states and an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to the Home
Tribals have been protesting the takeover of their mineral-rich lands by mining
companies and their displacement will make it easier for miners to move in.
Hindustan Aluminum Company (Hindalco) and Vedanta Resources, a London-based
minerals and mining giant, are among several miners forced to put their plans
on hold because of tribal protests against their operations. Hindalco has
acquired rights to extract bauxite in Mali Parbat in Orissa but protests by the
Paroja tribe have put off bauxite extraction. In Chhattisgarh, Vedanta faced
opposition from the Adivasis tribe.
Chhattisgarh is India's richest state in terms of mineral wealth, with 28
varieties of major minerals, including diamonds, according to the Chhattisgarh
Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC). All the tin ore in India and a fifth of
the country's iron ore is located in the state. It also has rich deposits of
bauxite, limestone, dolomite and corundum, the CMDC says.
Mining companies are well-connected to political parties across the ideological
spectrum. Chidambaram was once on the board of Vedanta and stepped down in May
2004 when he became finance minister.  Chidambaram was paid US$70,000 a year
as a non-executive director of Vedanta, during 2003, a year when the market
value of the company's shares rose by 1,000%, Rohit Poddar writes in the book Vedanta's
Chidambaram and his wife have defended Vedanta in court.  In 2003, he
represented Sterlite Industries, a subsidiary of Vedanta, in the Mumbai High
Court, when it faced charges of avoiding customs duties and tax evasion. As its
counsel, Chidambaram secured Vedanta a stay of recovery proceedings. After he
become finance minister no moves were initiated to get Sterlite to pay up dues
to the government.
Bhushan says that Chidambaram's former relationship with Vedanta as board
director and counsel constituted a "serious conflict of interest" with his
position as Home Minister.
Green Hunt ignores the root cause of the problem - tribal poverty and mass
displacement, according to Digvijay Singh, a general secretary of the ruling
Congress party and former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. In an article on
Chidambaram's strategy, Singh said it "does not take into consideration the
people living in the affected area who ultimately matter. He is treating it
purely as a law and order problem without taking into consideration the issues
that affect the tribals."
Green Hunt would help mining companies silence tribals and drive them out
faster. Several mining companies are known to have financed and armed local
outfits to intimidate tribals into ending their protests. The land they have
been eyeing will soon be rid of protesters because of the armed operations.
Critics draw parallels between Green Hunt and an earlier "peace campaign"
called Salwa Judum.
Launched by the Chhattisgarh government in Dantewada in 2005, Salwa Judum
(Peace March) was touted as a spontaneous tribal uprising against Maoists. In
reality, the government was arming tribals to tackle the "Red Menace". Its
impact was disastrous. It set one brother against another, dividing villages
and plunging Dantewada into civil war. The bloodletting resulted in an exodus
of hundreds of thousands of tribals.
The objective of Salwa Judum and collusion between the government and
mining companies has been highlighted in a report entitled "State Agrarian
Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms" from the Ministry of Rural
Development of the government of India.
"This open declared war will go down as the biggest land grab ever, if it plays
out as per the script," the report says. The "drama [was] scripted by Tata
Steel and Essar Steel who wanted seven villages or thereabouts, each to mine
the richest lode of iron ore available in India."
According the Rural Development Ministry's report, "There was initial
resistance to land acquisition and displacement from the tribals. The state
withdrew its plans under fierce resistance ... A new approach was necessary if
the rich lodes of iron ore are to be mined.
The new approach came about
with the Salwa Judum ... [Its] first financiers ... were Tata and the
Essar ... It turned out to be an open war between brothers. 640 villages as per
official statistics were laid bare, burnt to the ground and emptied with the
force of the gun and the blessings of the state. 350,000 tribals, half the
total population of Dantewada district are displaced, their womenfolk raped,
their daughters killed, and their youth maimed. Those who could not escape into
the jungle were herded together into refugee camps run and managed by the Salwa
Judum. Others continue to hide in the forest or have migrated to the
nearby tribal tracts in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. 640 villages
are empty. Villages sitting on tons of iron ore are effectively de-peopled and
available for the highest bidder. The latest information that is being
circulated is that both Essar Steel and Tata Steel are willing to take over the
empty landscape and manage the mines. 
There are worrying
similarities between Salwa Judum and Green Hunt. The bloodletting and
displacement has begun. And the ultimate prize for mining companies would be
mineral-rich land falling into their hands.
1. To read the document, click
2. As Vedanta's counsel, Chidambaram received 886,564 rupees (US$18,729
approximately) during three financial years ending March 23, 2003. Ibid, p 55.
3. Committee On State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms.
draft report, pg 161. Ministry of Rural Development, Government of
India, New Delhi.
Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in